Haggard is not a “Gay Father,” but Regnerus is Still Wrong

A few weeks ago I—like many others—wrote a criticism of Mark Regnerus’s study of child-welfare outcomes in different family structures. He claimed that his study debunks the idea that children in same-sex households do just as well as children in traditional heterosexual households; I argued (and still maintain) that it does no such thing.

My criticism prompted a rebuttal from Maggie Gallagher, which prompted a rejoinder from me and then another from Gallagher.

It turns out that Gallagher is right in one detail, and I want to set the record straight.

Our disagreement was about who counted as a “Lesbian Mother” or “Gay Father” in Regnerus’s study. I argued that Regnerus’s criteria were so loose that even, say, Ted Haggard would count as a “Gay Father.” Section 2 of Regnerus’s report states that the survey asked the following question:

“From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever [emphasis in original] have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?” Response choices were “Yes, my mother had a romantic relationship with another woman,” “Yes, my father had a romantic relationship with another man,” or “no.””

Regnerus goes on to explain that a “Yes” answer to these questions trumped other categories for the purpose of the study. (The categories divide children as follows: 1. Intact Biological Family (IBF), 2. Lesbian Mother (LM), 3. Gay Father (GF), 4. Adopted, 5. Divorced Later, 6. Stepfamily, 7. Single Parent, 8. All others.) Here’s the part that misled me:

Together these eight groups account for the entire NFSS sample. These eight groups are largely, but not entirely, mutually exclusive in reality. That is, a small minority of respondents might fit more than one group. I have, however, forced their mutual exclusivity here for analytic purposes. For example, a respondent whose mother had a same-sex relationship might also qualify in Group 5 or Group 7, but in this case my analytical interest is in maximizing the sample size of Groups 2 and 3 so the respondent would be placed in Group 2 (LMs). Since Group 3 (GFs) is the smallest and most difficult to locate randomly in the population, its composition trumped that of others, even LMs.

Regnerus’s explanation implies that GFs and LMs trumped all other categories. But in fact, they trumped all of the others except IBF. Had I looked up the survey instrument (which I should have) rather than relying on the above narrative, I would have spotted this.

So while the substance of my criticism stands—this study is not a study of same-sex parenting at all—my examples need to be altered. For example, Ted Haggard (who is still in an “Intact Biological Family”) would have to be replaced, with, say, Jim McGreevey, or some other person who divorced before his children reached eighteen.

None of this should be much comfort to Regnerus, who, failing to find a statistically significant random sample of such households, went ahead anyway and framed his study as one about same-sex parenting. But only 23 percent of those in the “Lesbian Mother” category reported living with their mother and her partner for at least three years, and less than 2 percent of those in the “Gay Father” category reported living with their father and his partner for at least three years.

It should not surprise us that these children’s outcomes look like those of children of single parents and divorced parents—because the overwhelming majority of them are the children of single parents and divorced parents.

Comparing them to “Intact Biological Families” for the purposes of drawing conclusions about same-sex parenting was, is, and will continue to be bogus.


6 Comments for “Haggard is not a “Gay Father,” but Regnerus is Still Wrong”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Regnerus’ study is a model of what passes for “science” on the far right — inadequate samples, hidden criteria, poorly and mismatched defined categories, comparisons between unlikes, substandard peer review, and so on. In short, Regnerus’ study seems to be yet another example of ideologically driven research shaped to return the desired outcome.

    It will be interesting to see the results when legitimate longitudinal studies are available comparing categories that are comparable — for example, comparing (a) the outcomes of children adopted and raised by intact opposite-sex married parents and the intact same-sex married parents, (b) the outcomes of children raised by straight single mothers and children raised by lesbian single mothers, and so on, up and down the line.

    It will be years before such longitudinal studies are available, but the legitimate research to date suggests that sexual orientation is not a significant factor in the outcomes.

  2. posted by Houndentenor on

    People are either good parents or they are not. (Okay, granted there is some grey area there, but you get my point.) Even if we accepted the idea that two-parent gender-discordant married couples are the ideal parents, and ignore that many such parents are horrible, abusive and/or neglectful, what happens to the rest of the children for whom that is not an option. Plenty of children are raised by single parents because one or both parents are deceased. Add to that those whose parents have divorced, abandoned them, are in prison, etc. I’m sorry but the social conservatives just don’t live in the real world. Would it be good if everyone were raised by June and Ward Cleaver? Sure. But that’s not reality for millions of children who are lucky to have one parent who cares for them. One good parent beats two crappy ones. And two moms is obviously (to anyone with any sense) preferable to a crappy mom-dad dysfunctional nightmare.

    I wish I had the exact quote from Molly Ivans. She said (sorry to paraphrase because what she said was better that I’m going to quote has as saying) that anyone who wants to make social policy needs to spend some time in Family Court. A day or two (if they could take that many heartbreaking stories back to back) would show them that the ideal just doesn’t exist for many children. Those children have to be accounted for when me make laws and set policy.

  3. posted by Scott Rose on

    If you were ethical, you would now tell The National Review to publish corrections at the bottom of the articles where you originally made the mistakes about Haggard et al vis-a-vis the Regnerus study. If National Review leaves the mistakes unremarked under the published articles, that’s a problem. Not a “bizarre conspiracy theory;” a problem.

    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      I don’t know about the ethics involved with the National Review, but it is telling that Regnerus’ study was framed to exclude IBF’s with a gay or lesbian spouses from the “gay father” or “lesbian mother” categories. The effect would be to skew results toward poorer outcomes for same-sex parenting. Yer another indication that Regnerus’ study was shaped to return the desired outcome.

  4. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    The University of Texas has begun an investigation in to the study, after numerous social scientists at the university criticized the study’s methodology and a formal complaint was lodged. Social Science Research, the journal that published the study after a shorter than normal review process, is looking into the review process.

  5. posted by Regan DuCasse on

    I’m with Tom on this. There are several OTHER types of studies that deserve the light of day, and investment.
    Decades ago, Dr. Ben Clark and his wife did a study on the effects of living under Jim Crow on impressionable young black children. The purpose was to illustrate what negative messaging and living in systemic bigotry and discrimination did to their emotional health and self esteem.
    This was the study pivotal to the Brown vs. Brd of Ed decision. A decision that was ultimately unanimous.

    It’s only honest to do research on the damage similar discrimination and bigotry does to young gays and lesbians.
    Has anyone measured the damage STRAIGHT parents have done to their gay children and the outcomes of such parenting?
    Could they point to religious teaching as critical to the negative messaging that underpins our civil laws and gay lives?
    Would they compare such religious teaching to emotional abuse and family discord?
    Would that admit this as the essential contributing factor to it and STILL call it a healthy and preferred outcome?

    Regnerus and the other anti gay factions make much of what gay parents might do while raising a child, but never consider the opposite. They’d certainly have a bigger sample to work with, if they cared to ask. NARTH and EXODUS exist solely on one of a few templates that homosexuality is ’caused’ by some form of abuse in the formative years.
    But these same so called credentialed therapists, apparently are quite reluctant to admit that the use of religion to emotionally abuse and blackmail a gay person over something they didn’t create and don’t control might have worse consequences than leaving them alone would.
    Trying to force gay people to change, through duress of societal stigma and discrimination is an approach with a long and terrible failure rate. It’s not new.
    Yet, NARTH and so on, and now Regnerus, try to sell a different and contradictory approach as if it’s a new one.
    It’s full scale acceptance that would be new. And for myself, I resent this constant appeal to the worst of prejudices to game the SAME outcome.
    I would LOVE to see what the world would be like full of gay folks NOT hiding and all of them telling the truth and being safe so as to be honest.
    ONLY then, are we to know anything that’s close to the truth.
    Regnerus betrayed his subjects AND the subject itself.

    With incompetent researchers like that, and their motive is to betray who they are researching, no gay person could trust such a thing.
    Accepting gay people fully and equally into society is going to have to be the next wave of finding out.
    And SCOTUS would do well to consider the Clark study and the precedent it set.

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